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The life and artistic career of Helen Hyde had several similarities with famous painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt. But while Mary Cassatt was influenced by 'Japonism' but had never left the American and European continent, Helen Hyde went to Japan and became a 'Japanese' printmaker, long before Elizabeth Keith set her foot on Japan's soil.
First Publication: July 2009
Latest Update. April 2013
Helen Hyde was born in Lima, New York, USA, near Rochester, into a wealthy family. This enabled her to pursue an artistic career without any financial worries during her whole lifetime. She grew up in San Francisco where she began her art studies at the San Francisco School of Design and later in New York at the Art Students League from 1888 until 1889.
In 1890 Helen Hyde came to Europe, first Berlin and then Paris, at that time the uncontested center for the fine arts in the world. It was the period when the French impressionists had finally been accepted by the public after a long struggle. And it was the period of Japonism in France - a craze for everything Japanese, especially Japanese woodblock prints.
In Paris Helen Hyde saw an exhibition of works by Mary Cassatt, an American female artist from a wealthy American home as she was.
In 1894 Helen Hyde returned to San Francisco and began to create color etchings. Finally in 1899 she came to Japan where she tried to establish herself for a life and as an artist.
Helen Hyde learned how to make color woodblock prints the Japanese way by Emil Orlik, an Austrian living in Japan who made designs for woodblocks that were published by Shozaburo Watanabe. Emil Orlik was Watanabe's first artist to cooperate in the realization of Watanabe's idea of a renewal of the old ukiyo-e tradition. This resulted in what we call today the shin hanga art movement.
Helen Hyde maybe could have become famous as a shin hanga artist working for Watanabe. I do not know if Watanabe was interested. But it was not an option for Helen Hyde anyway. She wanted to remain independent and thus hired her own carver (Matsumoto) and printer (Murata Shojiro).
The following years Helen Hyde was travelling several times between Japan and the United States, and made trips to China, India and Mexico. At that time such a journey was a major effort that required not only the financial means but also the patience for a journey over the Pacific that took roughly two weeks.
Since the late 1890s Helen Hyde was quite successful as an artist in the United States and the United Kingdom. She took part in important exhibitions, won prizes and had galleries on the old and the new continent that sold her art works.
Helen Hyde was talented, met the art taste of the period and her descent from a wealthy family certainly paved the way to establish herself as an internationally recognized artist.
Around 1910 Helen Hyde learned that she had cancer. In 1914, knowing of her destiny, she closed her home in Japan and returned to the USA, where she lived with her sister in Chicago. She died in San Francisco in 1919.
The life and career of Helen Hyde reminds us of another American artist of the period, Mary Cassatt, the great post-impressionist painter.
Both female artists came from a wealthy home. Otherwise they would have hardly succeeded in an artistic career - at that time still quite unusual for women. Both were never married. But both loved to show mothers and children in their art works. Mary Cassatt was clearly influenced by Japanese woodblock prints - obvious in her drypoint prints that she had created from 1889 until 1890 and in later prints created until 1896.
One can find woodblocks, etchings and aquatints in the graphic works of Helen Hyde. She continued to produce art works after her return from Japan. Apart from art prints, she left to the world drawings, paintings and watercolors.
Prints by Helen Hyde are quite rare but still available in the market. Prices are not cheap but still affordable.
13 sold object(s) by Helen Hyde 1868-1919 in our Art Archive
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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